Columbus, Ohio USA
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The Walking Life
Discover the many rewards
By Joel Knepp
May/June 2015 Issue

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Joel Knepp and his wife Lynda McClanahan walking in Goodale Park. Photo © Greg Knepp

Walking is the natural state of the human. We have evolved to walk, and our bodies are walking machines. While our close cousins merrily swing from trees and scamper on all fours, we are definitely walkers. Despite the fact that our big, protein-enlarged brains and skillful hands have devised a myriad of conveyances from bullock carts to bicycles, from sailboats to snowmobiles and Segways, we are engineered to walk around upright, under our own steam, eyes open, arms swinging, feet planting themselves again and again on the ground. Sure, we can do other things like skip, hop, jump, run, dance, crawl, climb, and swim, but these are all way down the list. For most of us, the lion’s share of our self-powered movement from point A to point B is accomplished by walking.

Walking, being our natural state of getting around, feels good and is good for us. It’s something most people can do despite their size, age, or the number of pills they take. Toddlers delight in newfound walking skills and their pesky ability to escape their parents in two shakes. Oldsters who can still walk pride themselves on retaining their bipedal mobility. Folks who once walked but can no longer do so experience a profound loss and know that despite ADA accommodations and fancy scooters, things will never be quite the same. However, at some point between the toddler stage and our latter years, many of us have somehow forgotten that to be human is to walk and have lost the joy of walking. Our society has worked hard to stifle that joy and create living conditions in which walking is discouraged, inconvenient, or downright dangerous. Most of this stems from building a world to accommodate automobiles, to the exclusion of all other considerations.

Don’t get me wrong, automobiles are great, and so are buses, planes, motor scooters, and trains (By the way, how about we get some trains in Ohio?), but prioritizing the car over everything else has wreaked havoc on our environment, our lifestyles, and our bodies. Young people sense this by getting significantly fewer drivers’ licenses than previous generations, and Detroit is worried. A ridiculous percentage of people are fat, sick, or both. It used to be that humans had to walk or even run almost constantly to get a meal. Now we get high-calorie food at drive-up windows without even walking into a restaurant or delivered to our front door without even a short walk to the car. Venture down the highway to any rest stop and observe folks getting out of their autos. Watch as they painfully pry themselves out of their seats, struggle to stand, and stiffly hobble to the restrooms and vending machines. Yikes- this is not good! There must be a better way.

I was fortunate to be raised mostly on army bases, many of which were large and spread-out with ample green space and trees. Some were in foreign countries where folks walk way more than Americans. My parents were busy people who did not provide taxi service. If I wanted to get somewhere – a friend’s house, the quarry in the woods, basketball practice, the movie theater, the train station, or the teen club – I walked. The kids I knew were accustomed to walking or bike-riding long distances. Practically none were fat. One summer at Ft. Knox, a huge army base, my mother made me take a typing course at the high school; I wasn’t thrilled at the time to be attending summer school but now I bless her. But back to the point, no school buses ran in the summer, so I walked a couple of miles each way. I wasn’t a big deal, just doin’ what came naturally. One bonus was that I got to visit with a herd of pigmy goats at the medical research center on the way to the school.

Moving on to young adulthood in Columbus, I once lived next to Schiller Park in German Village and drove to work on the East Side. After work I would unwind and burn off energy by running around the park. Later on, I walked from that German Village apartment to work at Lazarus downtown. Several lives down the road I moved to Victorian Village and started taking the Neil Avenue/OSU bus to my downtown office job. I was getting slothful. Then, at some point in the 1980s, fate dealt a wild card: the bus strike. “Well,” says I, “Who needs the bus?” Back to walking I went, and I’ve been walking to work downtown ever since. Maybe you’ve seen my wife and me in our berets trucking along on Neil Avenue or heading down the diagonal walkway through Goodale Park. I count it a great blessing that somehow we ended up in the neighborhood where walking is not only possible but pleasurable and safe, just as it was on the army bases of my youth.

The walking life is a good one, filled with unexpected surprises. Even at a fast pace, you see what’s happening in the neighborhood in a way you just can’t when speeding by in a motor vehicle or even on a bike. You can get most places with a variety of routes using parks, alleys, streets, sidewalks, and bike paths, depending on your mood. Friendly cats greet you. At night you get to look into people’s windows, and isn’t there a little voyeur in all of us? You find cool things on the streets or in the alleys. Just a few of my discoveries: Tommy Hilfiger desert boots in my exact size still wrapped in tissue paper, a large collection of expensive neckties, nice furniture, artwork, a Swiss Army knife, a white dress shirt in my exact size, and a bridesmaid’s dress in a box (too small, so I returned it to UPS!).

If you are reading this, you probably live in or near the Short North, a perfect place for walkers along the scale from beginner to hard core. The areas which comprise the greater Short North, unlike many outlying parts of town, are relatively compact, with everything needed for the good life accessible to those willing to ride the shoe-leather express. We’re within reasonable walking distance of much of OSU and downtown. We can stroll through lovely residential neighborhoods to the Gallery Hop, Comfest, Buckeye games, the Arts Festival and much more. The central city is getting more walker-friendly. There are more and better crosswalks, more “Yield to Pedestrian” signs, and more dog walkers, baby-buggy walkers, and general-purpose walkers.

So get some decent shoes and hit the streets. Look around and enjoy the sights. Greet your fellow walkers. If it’s cold, bundle up! With a warm cap and a down vest under a coat you can handle anything, and you will find new appreciation for central heating when you arrive at your destination or return home. Buy those stretchy rubber-ice-gripper-spikey things that fit on your shoes for when things get slippery – you’ll be glad you did. If it’s rainy, get waterproof shoes, a good umbrella, and a cap with a bill if you wear glasses. Rain suits are not my thing but they might by yours; you’ll figure out what works. Join us! Walk and sing, walk and think, walk and talk, walk and space out (except at crosswalks). Walk for health, walk for transportation, walk for fun. Get moving and discover the many rewards of the walking life!

© 2015 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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